LAS VEGAS - Manny Pacquiao has spent the week here insisting he’s a new man but the same old fighter. Trainer Freddie Roach hopes he’s right on both counts.
Pacquiao claims to be a reformed fallen Catholic, a man who strayed away from the anchors of his life the past few years into a world of fist-fights, gambling, drinking, womanizing and late-night excursions to pool halls and bar rooms that nearly destroyed his marriage and his life.
Although that all came to a head last November in the days leading up to his stunningly lackluster performance against long-time nemesis Juan Manuel Marquez, Pacquiao refuses to blame his poor performance on his then chaotic lifestyle. He keeps insisting it was a case of underestimating Marquez, a mistake he says he will not repeat Saturday night when he attempts to defend his WBO welterweight title from the challenge of undefeated junior welterweight champion Timothy Bradley.
But promoter Bob Arum and others in Pacquiao’s camp insist Pacquiao was up into the wee hours night after night on the phone trying to convince his wife Jinkee not to divorce him during the final weeks of his training for the Marquez fight. When she finally arrived in Las Vegas several days before the bout it was not to support him but rather to tell him their marriage was irrevocably broken.
That became apparent when she refused to attend a planned ceremony to renew the vows Pacquiao admits to having not simply broken but shattered beyond recognition. By then he had begun to study the Bible and try to reform his life, telling people that despite all his fistic success he found himself “empty inside.’’
Eventually Pacquiao would save his marriage and turn his back on the life he’d been living, selling off the two pool hall/bars he owned as well as 1000 cockfighting roosters and a casino in Manila. Since then he has made a public display of his renewed faith, leading nightly Bible study with his entourage in tow and publicly proclaiming both his past sins and his decision to now use the Bible as “a manual for my life.’’
What boxing people wonder is if Pacquiao’s self-proclaimed renewed faith will cause him to become less of a predator inside the ring, where he has in recent years stopped the likes of Oscar De La Hoya, David Diaz, Ricky Hatton and Miguel Cotto while also beating the face off of Antonio Margarito in a bloody and lopsided decision and winning an equally one-sided victory over Shane Mosley before barely escaping with his welterweight title intact against Marquez.
Pacquiao insists there is no contradiction in being a man who has turned his life over to God and also being a man whose profession asks him to turn over other men inside a boxing ring.
“When I committed my life to the Lord I gave up many things that were not in keeping with what the Bible teaches,’’ Pacquiao (54-3-2, 38 KO) said. “Boxing is a job. I don’t look at it as anything more than that. It will not affect my job.
“My opponent authorizes me to hit him and I authorize him to also hit me. It’s not personal. We’re just doing our jobs.
“This is what God put me here to do. When I get into the ring I change my aura into a warrior. It doesn’t mean I dislike my opponent. I love my opponent.
“I love Bradley as a brother but we have a job in the ring that we need to do. We have to hurt people. That’s our position and part of the position is to do our job in the ring.’’
If that’s the case however, one wonders will Pacquiao retain the same killer instinct that made him one of boxing’s best finishers? If he gets Bradley in trouble will he feel the need to show him mercy or will he remain the “warrior’’ he has so often been in the past?
Worse, if he finds himself in trouble will he attack or will he begin to wonder if this time defeat is God’s plan for him and simply accept it? How he acts on fight night will determine all that but Roach insists he’s seen only positive changes thus far.
“He has more focus and more energy,’’ Roach said of Pacquiao’s training efforts in preparation for the undefeated Bradley (28-0, 12 KO). “In the past he’d come to the gym with rings under his eyes from getting so little sleep because he’d been out late all night.
“Now he shows up fresh and when he’s done he does his Bible study and goes to sleep. I have no doubt it’s going to make Manny a better fighter.
“There have been a lot of distractions that have been bad for his career but he's got one new distraction now that's a lot more healthy for him and his family.’’
Saturday night both Freddie Roach and Manny Pacquiao will learn if that new distraction is also healthy for his boxing career.